Sunday, March 21, 2010

Perfect Peace

This week’s chapter picks up on a theme that we encountered in last week’s chapter. It’s the theme of waiting. This week’s chapter considers some things that happen while we wait for Jesus to come back. You’ll see that Isaiah once again uses the imagery of a city. In the last two chapters Isaiah has pointed to a city in terms of the coming destruction. That shows up here again as ‘the lofty city’. This is the city of man. But Isaiah refers to another city in this chapter. This city is for the righteous to enter so that they might be kept safe. This city is secure, and it is that because it is founded on Jesus, the Rock. This is the city of God. There is also in this chapter something that you don’t see very often in the Old Testament: a reference to the resurrection of the dead. The chapter ends with a reminder about the coming fury of Jesus against sin. I’m going to read the whole chapter, but the sermon will focus on one verse, one of the exceeding great and precious promises of Jesus to His people.

Listen as I read Isaiah 26.

The promise that I want to consider this morning is in verse 3. ‘You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.’ This really is a precious promise for us. When the angel said of Jesus, ‘He will save His people from their sins’, he was talking about more than forgiveness. He was talking about being freed from sin so that you might become a glorious person, someone filled with beauty. The Gospel is not just about our being able to live in a perfect place. It’s also our about being changed into perfect people. The promise of our text focuses on one aspect of that perfection: peace. We are in the process of becoming people who are filled with peace, people who are fully at peace. This, in part, is why Jesus has come.

The word ‘peace’ can be hard to pin down. So let’s get at it in this way. Let’s talk about ‘not peace’. What does ‘not peace’, the lack of peace, look like? It’s any agitation of the soul. And what does that include? Well, it includes things like anger and bitterness. It includes being frazzled. Someone who has no hope is experiencing this ‘not peace’. Guilt and fear are also included. This ‘not peace’ is any sort of unrest of the soul. A soul that enjoys peace, on the other hand, is encouraged, hopeful, calm. This doesn’t mean that the peaceful soul is merely passive. It’s quite active. It’s engaged with life. But there is no disquiet. Jesus said, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’ Jesus has come so that we might enjoy His peace.

What makes this whole area stand out is that we live in a world that is not at peace. It is filled with people whose souls suffer much agitation. It is filled with people who are plagued with things like fear, guilt, stress, worry and all the rest. It is filled with ‘not peace’. We have been raised in that world, and it affects us. We all, to some degree, experience this ‘not peace’. Some of us feel it more in one kind of situation, while others of us feel it in another. Some of us feel it more in one form, while others of us feel it in another. Some of us feel it more intensely than others do. But we all feel it at one time or another. We all feel this agitation in our souls. And sometimes it’s just too much too bear. Jesus has come to give us peace. His peace. He has promised it to us. It’s the Gospel. And so, as is usually the case, we see how Jesus speaks to our need and reminds us of His love. And out of that He offers us His gifts. It is His goal to remove this agitation we labor against and to replace it with a peace that will fill our souls. This is all a part of being saved from our sins.

Let’s move on. We’ve looked at what Jesus offers in this promise. Now, we’re going to look at how to make it ours. How can your soul enjoy this peace from Jesus? Listen again to the promise. ‘You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.’ Let’s look at this phrase, ‘whose mind is stayed on you’. The sense of Hebrew word for ‘mind’ is different from what you might expect. Listen to a couple of other places where it is used. ‘And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.’ And then there’s this. ‘The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’ These verses translate our word in terms of inclinations or intentions. This helps us to understand our text. When you read ‘mind’, don’t focus on some intellectual ability. What Jesus is talking about in our promise is a mindset, a frame of mind, an orientation. It’s about the attitude of your heart as you consider and deal with this world.

This mind is ‘stayed’ on Jesus. We don’t use the word ‘stayed’ in this sense these days. This word is about resting on or leaning on something or someone. It’s about being dependent. Here, it’s about being dependent on Jesus. The mind that enjoys peace is dependent on Jesus. As a result, the mind is oriented by Jesus. So, you see, gaining peace involves the mind. This is not about being smart. It’s not about what you think. It’s about how you think. As you deal with life, pondering how to understand it and how to chart a course through it, your mind is to lean on Jesus. Your mind is to depend on Him to orient it properly. As you do that, you will see this life more in the way that Jesus does. This is what following Jesus with your mind looks like. There is a submissive dependence on Jesus to guide you in how you are to think about life. This is part of how you are to gain this peace. Enjoying the peace of Jesus requires learning how to think about life. ‘You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You…’

Now, we’re ready for the last part of the promise: ‘because he trusts in you.’ Words are funny. A word will mean something specific, but it may also have a hint of more. So, there is the meaning of the word ‘trust’. This is about confidence or faith. That’s the meaning. But the hinted more is that this is something done between people. This is face to face. This is personal. And that hint of more is important here. Anyone who has this promised peace has it because there is something personal going on with Jesus. It’s as if Jesus looks you in the eyes and offers this promise. In response, you look Him in the eyes and tell Him that you believe Him. You tell Him, ‘I trust You.’ Out of this comes His peace.

But why even talk about this? Why is there any need for trust? Well, this goes back to the part of the promise that talks about the mind stayed on Him. The fact of the matter is that there are lots of competing ways of thinking about life. They come at you every day. Some issue confronts you. How should you respond? There are a multitude of perspectives to take on it. Some of them include fear and guilt and anger. And there are lots of other possibilities. Then, there is Jesus’ perspective. Which will you choose? If you would enjoy peace, you need to view life from Jesus’ perspective and then act accordingly. But, let’s face it. There are times when Jesus’ perspective on things seems a bit odd, to say the least. ‘Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ Really?!? Then there’s this. ‘And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.’ Now, that has some interesting implications, no? The mind that sees life from Jesus’ perspective will see it in a way that the vast majority of people wouldn’t even consider. And so, the question arises, ‘Jesus, are you sure?!? Is this really the way to see this? Nobody else deals with life like this. Are You sure that this is what I should do?’ And Jesus replies, ‘Yes, that’s the right way. Trust Me on this.’ And that’s exactly what needs to happen.

Now, keep clearly in mind that trust is not just some jump into the dark. There are reasons to trust Jesus. First, we ask, ‘What am I trusting Him for? What is He offering?’ And here, the answer is clear. Jesus offers His peace. That’s what’s at stake and it’s helpful to see that. Second, there’s the question of whether He can come through on what He promises. Can He deliver? Can He actually give this perfect peace? If someone doesn’t think He can, then trust is foolishness. It only makes sense to trust Jesus for this peace if you really think that He can keep His promise. And then, there is a third factor when it comes to trust. What are His motives in making this offer? You should never trust someone whose motives behind his offer are unclear. He may be willing to deliver now, but what if his situation changes? What if keeping his promise becomes too costly? Will he still keep his promise then? So, what are Jesus’ motives in making this offer? Here’s one: He is for you. He wants to see you flourish. He wants to see you thrive. He wants you to enjoy His peace. He is so totally for you, and He has proven it. Making this peace possible was costly, very costly. It required the Cross. No Cross, no peace. And always remember that Jesus could have walked away from the Cross – but He didn’t. Isn’t that proof enough that He is for you, that He loves you. It is because of that love, that being so very for you, that you can trust Him. So, when you are confronted with some situation, and Jesus’ way of dealing with it seems really odd, ask Him. ‘Are You sure about this?’ There’s nothing wrong with that – as long as you respond well when He says, ‘Yes, I’m sure. Trust Me on this.’

Our text has three thoughts. The first is the promise of true and full peace. No agitation of soul. The second is about the orientation of the mind. It’s all about depending on Jesus to give you His perspective as you deal with life. And then, the last is about person-to-person trust when you hit the hard spots of life. It’s about responding to Jesus’, ‘Trust Me on this’, with our own, ‘Yes, Lord, I trust You.’

That leaves two questions. The first is this. Now what? What do you do to grow in your experience of this peace? The way to enjoy the perfect peace of Jesus is by faith and repentance. You’ll notice that I’ve reversed my usual order of those two words, and there is a reason for that. Some of you aren’t quite sure that this kind of peace is possible for you. You find yourself too often settling for a soul that is agitated. It may be fear or guilt or bitterness. But you tell yourself that significant change is not possible – not really. The first step for you is simply to believe the Gospel when it says that change is possible, that your soul can enjoy this peace. Jesus has come to save you from your sins. And that includes giving you a soul that is at peace. Our text is just one more piece of the Gospel that Jesus created. So, the issue is not complicated. You are believing this part of the Gospel or you aren’t. If you aren’t believing this part of the Gospel, but you want to, the solution is likewise not complicated. Repent. And that leads to prayer. ‘Lord, I want to believe the Gospel. I want to believe that peace is possible, even for me. Forgive my sin of unbelief. Forgive me and change me so that I can believe this part of the Gospel also.’ This is just an honest expression of need and a cry for grace. As you do this, bit by bit the Spirit will act. ‘He will save His people from their sins.’ And one fruit of that – there will be many others – is a growing experience of peace, a soul with less and less agitation. It is a process that will continue through this life. And while you won’t reach completion in this life, the progress that you will experience will be amazing. You will experience peace in ways that you could never have imagined. Faith and repentance.

That leaves one last question. Why should you do this? Why pursue this peace? It may sound odd to say this but the most important reason for you to pursue this process of gaining peace is not your own wellbeing. It’s not so you can feel better, though you will. You’ll remember that I’ve told you that self-interest as a motivation is not wrong – as long as it is never higher than number two on your list of priorities. The first reason that you are to pursue this peace is so that Jesus would look good. That is always number one on the list. And that fits if you remember that your purpose for being alive is all about Him. You exist to make Jesus look good. And that includes things like pursuing peace. If your prime motivation for pursuing peace is your own wellbeing, there may well come the time when you tell yourself, ‘Well, life is not so bad. Sure, I still have issues, and that’s a pain at times, but pushing to make more progress is just too hard.’ And so, you settle for ‘not so bad’. Churches are filled with Christians who settle for ‘not so bad’. And, as a result, we look about as good as your average well-adjusted pagan. How does that make Jesus look good? We do what we do, even when it comes to believing the promises of the Gospel, so that when people watch us they will be impressed with the Savior who saves us and blesses us with things like His peace. Our lives are not about ourselves. They are all about Him. So, we do not settle for ‘not so bad’. We press on so that the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus might be seen in us. Believe the promise. It will be good for your soul, a taste of heaven. But more important than that, it will make Jesus look good.

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